Castles in Poland
Started conversation Jan 9, 2002
Due to its central location between east and west and due to numerous wars in the area, Poland features a number of very interesting and very different castles. They range from simple fortifications of the early middle ages and the impressing brick structures of the Knights in the high middle ages to the beautifully ornamented castles of rich barons and kings in renaissance and barock and to the heavy fortresses of the 19th century.
Each of the following castles represents a different type with a different historical background:
1. The Wawel of Krakow.
Originally founded in the 11th century, the Wawel holds a prominent position on a rock over the City of Krakow, controlling both the City and the Vistula River. Thanks to that location and to the importance of Krakow, the Wawel became the seat of the polish kings until the capital was moved to Warsaw in 1596. While in use the Wawel underwent numerous renovations (e.g. after the Tartars overran the city in the 13th century) and now shows a number of styles parallel. Besides, it hosts a beautiful cathedral that in its crypta holds the sarcophagi of most of the polish kings, among them August of Saxonia.
2. Malbork Castle of the Teutonic Knights
Malbork (or Marienburg in German), situated in the estuary of the Vistula River, was built in the 13th century by the Teutonic knights who controlled at that time the baltic coast and the areas around Gdansk. The castle is possibly the largest brick structure in the world and, other than the Wawel, kept its original medieval design until today. Its lack of decoration and its numerous walls and towers show immediately that Malbork was built to dominate, not to please.
3. The castles of Warsaw.
Once Warsaw became the polish capitalin the 17th century, the king himself as well as numerous courtiers and magnates created for themselves wealthy and beautiful estates in and around Warsaw, mostly in Barock style. Worth to mention is Castle Wilanow, summer residence of the polish Kings, and comparable (though much smaller) to Versailles, featuring many rooms decorated in the fashion of its time and a well laid-out park. Besides Wilanow, Warsaw offers the City Castle in the Old Town, which is not overly nice from the outside but very interesting inside. A definite Highlight are the castle-like buildings in the Baths-Park or Park Lasienkowski, built purely for pleasure around and even in a set of small lakes, close to the city centre.
4. Castle Krzysztopor.
Built in the early 17th century, and located in central Poland this castle was still built as a fortress (its name means "battle axe") but was meant also to show the grandeur of its owner, the rich magnate Ossolinski. According to the time's interest in astronomy, it featured 365 windows, 52 rooms and 12 ballrooms. However the castle was intact only for a few years and started to decay after swedish troops overran it in 1656. Now it is a ruin, although still impressive to look at.
5. The fortresses of the 19th century.
Although no castles in the typical sense, these structures, comparable in their functionality to the big battleships or factories of their times, represent the end of the evolution of military strongholds. Their prominent features are triangular artillery buttresses, double and triple walls, large casemattes for servicemen and water moats. The forts were still in use in Worl War I and while the Red Army attacked Poland in 1920, but later mobile warfare and airforce made these fortifications useless.
The fortresses in Poland are no tourist attractions and partly even difficult to find, as is the case in Warsaw, where a ring of 12-15 forts around the city is now in use as car garages, gardens, storage places or has been submerged under water. Warsaw has still one more or less intact fort over the vistula river. Besides that there is the Boyen Fortress in Gizycko / Lützen, in Mazury.
Poland features of course numerous more castles which are worth to be mentioned.